Many have deemed Steve Cooper’s first season in charge of Swansea City as a success. Sure, they’ve had their moments, but yesterday’s defeat to Luton and immediate scuffle on the pitch is a sign of angst at the club. They have in fact had a poor season, masked only by the signings made and the falsity of their league position.
Rewind back to the last day of August. Swansea City had just beaten current league leaders Leeds United 1-0 at Elland Road in Round Six of the Championship season. It was a win that placed the Swans two points clear at the top of the table, with Charlton, Leeds and West Brom trailing.
Nobody could’ve predicted the start to the season that Swansea made under Cooper. After the departure of the ‘messiah’ that was Graham Potter, nothing much more than a casual mid-table finish was expected for Swansea – and that was being optimistic. After losing Dan James and Oli McBurnie as well, and subsequently failing to spend more than half-a-million of the £32 million they received, it made Swansea’s start to the campaign all the more unprecedented.
After winning seven of their opening eight games in all competitions under the ex-Liverpool and England youth manager, Cooper’s side have only won nine games since. The last being their first back after the three month hiatus, a game so devastatingly one-sided that it ended in the sacking of Boro’s Jonathan Woodgate.
To go from that performance to the one we saw yesterday against Luton is stark, but a fair representation of Swansea’s indifferent season to date. Cooper was blasted after the game yesterday. He did in fact send criticism to the way of his players after the incident leading up to Jordan Garrick’s sending off, but that was met by mounds of criticism from fans who feel the club is lacking an identity, especially so when playing at the Liberty.
But a surprising fact is that, if Swansea were to finish the season today – in 10th-place of the Championship table – they would finish the season in the same position that Potter’s Swansea finished last time. An even more interesting one is that after Round 39 of the last Championship season, Swansea were slumped in 14th-place of the table.
That then makes Cooper’s season look at least to be on-par with Potter’s – so why is one currently a Premier League manager, attributed with playing some of the nicest football in the country, and the other an alleged ‘fraud’ with little-to-no tactical knowledge? The problem lies in Swansea’s perceived league position.
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Brentford chairman Matthew Benham – the statistical mastermind behind a revolution – has long said that the league table is a lie. The league table is not representative of a team’s form or playing staff. Swansea’s defeat to Luton, Wigan’s win over Blackburn, Charlton’s win over QPR – three examples yesterday of how the league table is nothing more than a long-list of numbers that eventually and brutally decides each team’s fate.
Swansea in 10th is not representative of the season they’ve had, or the supposed ‘progression’ they appear to have made under Cooper. Another factor that’s shadowing their season is some of the signings that Cooper has made. His connections and notoriety as one of the UK’s best youth coaches has seen the likes of Freddie Woodman join on-loan, with Rhian Brewster, Conor Gallagher and Marc Guehi all doing so in January.
These are marquee signings for a Championship club. January’s triple-signing of three reputable Premier League players looked to be the saving grace that would stop Swansea’s season from free-falling any further and in effect, it has been. Swansea’s form in the build-up to Christmas was relegation form, and the odd win and draw since New Year has kept them aloft in the mid-table pack.
But fickle as the Championship is, a couple more defeat and Swansea would be right in the thick of the bottom-half. Cooper’s season then could yet finish disastrously. It’s becoming ever difficult to see them overtaking the likes of Blackburn, Derby or Cardiff into the play-offs, with Preston seemingly in free-fall themselves.
No matter Swansea’s league position, many outsiders will look at Cooper’s maiden term in senior management as something of a success. Replacing one of the nation’s best up and coming managers and keeping them in and around the top-six throughout. But the fact is that Cooper hasn’t made his own imprint on this side – he could leave tomorrow and there’d be nothing to say he was ever there.
Swansea play without an identity. They play without presence and especially so at home. If it wasn’t for individuals picking them up points throughout the season then the true downpour of Cooper’s season would be at the fore. Don’t read into league positions, and divulge in Premier League signings – Swansea are a club heading backwards.